MPs quiz Finance officials over budget cuts

Kiboga East MP, Keefa Kiwanuka. PHOTO | FILE

Lawmakers on the Finance committee of Parliament yesterday tasked officials from the Ministry of Finance to explain persistent budget cuts done on the overall budgets approved by Parliament.

The concern was raised by the committee chairperson, Mr Keefa Kiwanuka, questioning why the government releases funds less than the exact amount passed by Parliament. 

Like his committee members, Mr Kiwanuka said the budget cuts affected critical areas, which eventually translated into stalled government projects and had a direct effect on service delivery besides causing the backlog in sensitive Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

“We were surprised that out of the money that you were supposed to have released, you went ahead and cut the Budget…” Mr Kiwanuka said.

He made reference to concerns put to his knowledge by the Auditor General, Mr John Muwanga, who through a letter he claimed to have received, sought the August House to intervene on the matter.

“I have a letter from the Auditor General complaining that their budget was cut when they have been struggling and they have a lot of backlog. This makes cynical people think that you are probably not interested in their work,” Mr Kiwanuka said.

In October last year, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Mr Ramathan Ggoobi, announced that government had slashed a total of Shs203.4b from some of its MDA as a measure to find resources to finance major priorities in the coming Financial Year 2021/2022.

At the time, Mr Ggoobi reasoned that the move was meant to enable the government to mitigate ‘wasteful’ expenditure and channel the available finances into areas that will revive the Covid-battered economy.

As one of the outcomes of such cuts noted in May this year, local contractors in the roads sector under their umbrella body of Uganda National Association of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors petitioned Parliament to intervene to recover Shs500b held by the Uganda National Roads Authority in arrears.

Such occurrences compelled lawmakers to raise concerns of the persistent move by the government demanding that such actions be revised.

“It has become completely your discretion on how much you get to release to an agency which we see as something about usurping the powers of Parliament because we would assume that once we have appropriated, you would go ahead and implement,” Mr Kiwanuka added.

GDP target

The Otuke County MP, Mr Paul Omara, warned that the government risks failing to register economic growth plans if funds are released late.

“If you don’t invest early in the year, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) projections, which you have made, will not be achieved,” Mr Omara said.

The State minister Finance in charge of General Duties, Mr Henry Musasizi, said contrary to the expected 25 percent release for each quarter, his ministry released 19 percent to various MDAs and entities.

“What happened this year is that because of the circumstances which were prevailing, we have had to balance the monetary and fiscal projections which led us to take a decision to release 19 percent of the recurrent budget and all the ongoing development budget of the next quarter,” Mr Musasizi said.

“The only mistake that we made and which we are correcting now is that we didn’t go into details to ascertain where this 19 percent was going. And as a result of that, we have entities which are supposed to be protected, suffering a budget cut,” he added.

As an immediate intervention, he said the ministry would undertake the detailed scrutiny into shortfalls that triggered the budget cuts and effect changes in a weeks time .